Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hillsborough Government: Good Enough?

Hillsborough residents are in the midst of considering a change in our form of government from the current 5-member Township Committee.

Presently, the voters elect the committee members and then – at the January reorganization meeting - the members “vote” on which one of them will be the next Mayor and the next Deputy Mayor. Within minutes of this “vote” engraved nameplates with the names and new positions on them magically appear on the podium. [It has been suggested that they have a tiny little engraver hidden in the back room.]

As it is obvious that the designated mayor will be a member of the committee’s majority party, it can make for some interesting committee-appointed mayors. For example, there is the distinct possibility that our next mayor will be a person who has resided in Hillsborough something like three years and has had no discernible previous political experience simply because this person is a member of the majority and the others have already taken their turn.

Well, to return to the possible change in Hillsborough’s government…

After a lot of partisan fighting [which I don’t have the time or patience to cover here] the voters chose five people as members of a Charter Study Commission to analyze the forms of government available to Hillsborough, including our present form, and make a recommendation to the voters about our future form of government – keeping what we already have or a new form. We will then vote yes or no on their recommendation.

[Now that I think about that statement, if they recommend no change what happens? A vote of confidence? A vote that we have noted their recommendation? Hmmm.]

Although there may not be anything intrinsically wrong with our current form of government, I can’t believe that the same way we ran a bunch of farms over two hundred years ago can be an effective way to successfully govern a suburban bedroom town of 38,000 residents.

The current form may be good enough, but there may be a better or a best still waiting to be discovered and implemented.

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It turned out that many confused residents already thought they were directly voting for Mayor and have said they would like to vote for Mayor. If nothing else, we can only hope that Hillsborough’s citizens become more educated about their government.

It would be great to have an anthropologist study this entire Hillsborough Charter Study Commission experience and publish a book.

Recently someone suggested putting all the involved politicians and their followers into the Dr. Phil House and letting them fight it out with Dr. Phil attempting to moderate. That suggestion has a certain amount of charm.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Corzine's Support (?) Staff

Following New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s motor vehicle accident last week, the list of his injuries included a compound fracture of his left leg. The national media noted that our last three governors have suffered broken legs.

Now, these injuries didn’t have anything to do with The Sopranos despite what residents of the other 49 states may think. It probably doesn’t have to do with our superfund sites or something in the NJ water affecting their bones. If memory serves me, Whitman broke her leg skiing, McGreevey fell down a sand dune, and Corzine had his car accident. [Those are our stories here in NJ and we’re sticking by them!]

The day after Corzine had his accident, while he was unconscious and in the midst of multiple surgeries for a long list of serious injuries, I was amazed to see his spokesperson at a news conference say that the Governor would be back at work in a week. The media was amazed to hear that assessment. Doctors were amazed although at least one was kind enough to point out that the spokesperson did not have a medical degree.

A week later Corzine was still basically unconscious and not breathing on his own, but the next day (this past Friday) he was finally coming back into consciousness. Over the weekend he was able to respond to questions by nodding his head, soooo….

His staff (remember them? The guys that are supposed to be on his side?) now claimed that he would be able to work from his bed shortly wherever that bed would be – the hospital, the governor’s mansion, his apartment in Hoboken.

Everyone was amazed again – press, doctors, etc. Now that he is conscious, I wonder if Corzine was also astonished to hear that he is all better and just about able to go back to work.

Let me just remind you again in case you forgot. These guys are on his staff. They are on his side.

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Richard Codey is our acting Governor again, the first time being when McGreevey retired. I actually learned how to do a write-in vote during our last gubernatorial election, so I could vote for him. One of Codey’s first reactions to becoming Acting Governor again was that he couldn’t go out in the morning in his pajamas to get his newspaper.

You gotta love New Jersey!

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Please notice that I didn’t say anything about the Governor not wearing his seatbelt or his driver speeding 91 mph with the emergency lights on when there was no emergency. I just wanted you to notice that I didn’t point that out.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The DIY TV Painting Miracle

Although I find shows such as Mission Organization, Clean Sweep, Flip This House, and Designed to Sell fascinating, I am confused by the amount of work they manage to do in (usually) two days.

Let’s take something simple: painting interior walls. The perpetrators of these shows pick out paint, do minimal preparation, apply the paint under less than desirable conditions, and all seem to be working with homeowners who have never touched a paintbrush. In one or two days they finish a perfect job.

At our homestead, picking out the color can take a few weeks.

First there are the trips to all the major paint dealers in the Hillsborough area, comparing such items as price, coupons, coverage, and warranties, and possibly narrowing it to at least one manufacturer and/or store.

Then we each pick out a color, but it’s never the same one. We finally settle on the color and start the struggle over the exact hue and, then, how many gallons we need to buy.

The paint cans and the home maintenance books always warn us about the thorough preparation that must be done before the first brush touches the wall: taking off all the switch plates, taking down the pictures and anything else hanging on the walls and filling the nail holes, and patching any damage or nail pops. On television they seem to just blithely paint over everything on the walls including the old wallpaper.

We carefully read the instructions on the cans regarding temperature and humidity. On TV they paint in all conditions and as for waiting for any amount of time between coats (if they even put on a second coat) – hah!

And what is with them painting in one room while the floor guys are sanding in the next room? And who the heck are all these people who have never painted a wall?

And yet, inexplicably, when they complete the job it’s perfect. At our house that’s the time when we discover that the finished color isn’t exactly what we wanted after all and have to decide how long we can live with it.

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Some real-life painting hints: Read the instructions on the can before you drip paint all over them. The older you get the smaller they print the instructions on the can. Vacuum the cobwebs off the walls before you start [Not that we have any cobwebs at our house, someone else told me that hint. Honest.]. No matter how thoroughly you clean the brushes they will never be the same next time you paint (which will be several years down the road), so don’t buy really expensive ones, just throw them out when you are done.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When It Rains, the Water has to Go Somewhere

Did the rain and the subsequent flooding this week get your attention?

Good. I’m now going to give you a lesson about impervious coverage. No, no – don’t you turn away! Pay attention!

Hillsborough residents – especially those of us who remember Hurricane Floyd – should worry about the increase in impervious coverage in our town.

Attend a Board of Adjustment meeting and listen to an application for an impervious coverage variance. It always seems like such a little thing and the individual applicants often seem annoyed that they even have to be there for such a minor item.

Just to clarify “impervious coverage” to the uninitiated (after all, I’ve noticed how empty those BOA meetings usually are), it’s when you put something over the dirt that will prevent or substantially reduce the natural percolation of water. Breaking it down further, people put down/construct something that stops rain from draining into the earth where it falls.

Okay, that still doesn’t do it for me. Let’s say a homeowner puts in a cement sidewalk 5-feet wide and 20-feet long. They have just installed 100-square-feet of impervious surface. The rain that would have soaked into that 100-square-feet has to go somewhere. The more impervious surface installed, the more water runoff has to be accounted for.

[I’ve done my best. Try Google or go to Wikipedia under Impervious Surface or talk to an engineer who does this type of work. On second thought, forget the engineer; you’ll only get more confused]

To continue, each building lot has a percentage of its surface that may by ordinance be covered by impervious surfaces – usually, for single-family home residential areas, around 15% to 20%, depending on the zoning laws, use laws, lawsuits, and laws I don’t even know about.

With the number of square feet covered by their home, driveway, sidewalk, and, maybe, a small patio, most homeowners max out on their allowable impervious coverage. That’s when they appear before the BOA for a variance to build that sunroom or the tiny little walkway around the pool.

The majority get their variance, although sometimes they have to scale back their projects. They are often irritated: It’s only a small amount and a man’s home is his castle and why did they bother to ask permission they should have just gone ahead with their project and not even asked and it’s a stupid law anyhow.

Okay, now that you have gotten that out of your system, think about the anxiety you may have felt this week watching the rain fall.

Think again.

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Attend a Planning Board meeting sometime when a developer is arguing for an upward change in the amount of allowed coverage in their large subdivisions (just a little bit – maybe 5%) or smaller lots with closer, larger houses. Remember this week’s flooding.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Littlest Leaguers

I don’t like organized sports and I really don’t like organized sports for children. Unfortunately I had to attend last Saturday’s Hillsborough Little League opening day.

Following the formal ceremonies the teams started their games. I wandered from field to field watching the older kids – the ones swaggering with attitude. Parents gave serious pep talks to reluctant players, yawning kids told their friends where else they would rather be, and earnest adult coaches encouraged their teams and discussed strategy

Just about what I expected.

But then a lady pointed to a far field and said I should be sure to see the littlest kids. That’s where I found baseball as a game.

Groups of kids still sporting their baby teeth wore team t-shirts that hung to their knees and baseball hats that flopped over their faces. Players held bats almost as tall as they were. Coaches tried valiantly to get them to sit still in their batting order, but by the time the coach got from one end of the bench to the other, the kids at the beginning had already popped up. Players (and I use the term loosely) wandered happily around the field while the adults encouraged them in the right direction. Home plate coaches drew little lines in the sand to show the batters where to stand.

They were having a good time and had no clue what the score was. That’s where I finally ran into baseball in its purest form. I might return to that field some day, but only to watch the littlest players, not the organization.

It doesn’t seem to take long for these little kids having fun to grow into serious contenders and then it’s no fun to watch. Or, I imagine, to play.

Monday, April 16, 2007

BOE Election Skirmishes

The latest skirmish in the school budget wars involves the local Boards of Education sending extra school election reminders only to the parents of children enrolled in the schools and the suggestion that voters should vote for Board of Education candidates with children enrolled in the schools.

I was prepared to rail against all this, but then I reconsidered.

For years the schoolchildren have been used as shills for the BOE and the NJEA by carrying home flyers reminding their parents to vote and with the arrival of new technology the schools began using their telephone auto-dialer emergency call systems to remind parents to vote.

Those without children in the public schools were left to their own memory devices and the sample ballot that is mailed out a week or so before the election.

Of course, the polling places are located at the schools and open at 2 p.m. (just about the time school lets out) on one of the few days when the kids are actually in school for the whole day.

BOE votes aren’t held on one of the numerous days when the kids aren’t in school – the days that not only mean the parents have no reason to be near the schools (and the polls), but that they are scrambling to set up child care and, therefore, aren’t kindly disposed towards the schools.

Candidates are using the argument "Vote for me because I have children in the schools."

It’s apparent that local Boards of Education want everyone to foot the bill for the public schools, but they only want the parents of the children attending the schools to vote on the budgets and serve on the board.

One of the founding principles of the United States of America is no taxation without representation, therefore I am going to suggest that only parents vote in the BOE elections, only parents serve on the board, and only parents pay the school taxes.

Sounds fair to me.

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New to the area? Approximately 67% of your taxes go to the schools. This year's budget in Hillsborough is $100.6 million. School elections are tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Traffic Signal Population Explosion

Traffic signals seem to be increasing at some type of geometric rate in Hillsborough.

Not that long ago – maybe 10 years - you could get to the Borough of Millstone from Route 206 by heading east on Amwell Road from the Route 514 [Amwell Road]/206 traffic light until you reached the next traffic light - just before you cross the river. Now you leave 206, go through the lights at Pineywoods Drive, Royce Brook Road, Willow Road, Amsterdam Drive, and the Millstone River Road Extension – five additional lights in a three-mile stretch – before you get to Millstone.

The addition of a traffic light can change the whole character of an area. Anyone who has lived along the Willow Road corridor for more than a few years has noticed the increase in car traffic that occurred when the traffic lights at Amwell Road/Willow Road and Hillsborough Road/Willow Road were added. It didn’t take long for the commuters to find this alternate route to the highway.

Last night there was a Township Committee resolution authorizing the payment of annual electrical costs for the operation of a traffic signal at Route 206 and Homestead Road.

This new light will add another usable cross road to the highway from Willow Road. Until the early 1990s Homestead Road was a gravel road lined with a few farms and a small industrial area at the end near 206. I’m not sure what makes this location a candidate for yet another traffic light except for some trucks exiting the industrial area.

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I was going to provide more information about the Willow Road shortcut for those not familiar with the area, but I changed my mind. Hah.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Lost Car - or Just Misplaced?

A Lost & Found classified ad caught my attention a few weeks ago: “CAR LOST Somerville metro area…” followed by a description, a license plate number, telephone numbers, and the notation “Appropriate reward!”

How embarrassing to not only lose your car, but then have to publicize it. But what keeps occurring to me is exactly how did they lose their car?

Often I have exited the Shop Rite realizing I have no clue where I parked. I have even consciously attempted to pay attention when I park, at least noticing which way the car is facing and if I am near a tree. As I leave the car and begin walking toward the store I try to line up my parking lot aisle with a door or a particular advertisement in the window.

If I am really paying attention it works, but so often I park and walk in while thinking of other things. Suddenly I panic as I am checking out and look out the front window across the vast lot and realize I haven’t a clue where the car is.

Usually I can at least narrow it down to the correct aisle and eventually find my car.

On those occasions when I have not picked the right aisle and walked half-way up the lot, I see my car in the next one and notice that there are no cross-aisle openings. This is the moment when you have to decide whether to just get your shopping cart as close as possible and then carry everything over to the car or admit defeat and, with others looking at you knowingly, push the full cart back to the end of the wrong aisle and back up the correct one. This decision may depend on how much stuff you have in your cart and if you see anyone you know.

A few times I have wondered if someone stole my car because I am so sure I am in the right spot and still can’t see it. Has that happened to you? It’s okay. It’s just between us. You can admit it.

As an alternative, you could just wait around until 11 p.m. when everyone else has left and your car is easy to spot. [But your frozen foods will suffer; trust me on this one.]

Now, back to the person advertising for their lost car. Choosing the explanation that they just forget where they parked it was based on my personal experience, but other scenarios occurred to me.

Maybe the car belongs to a senior family member whose memory just isn’t what it used to be. [No smart aleck comments now!] They drove somewhere and walked home forgetting the car.

Maybe the car was stolen. Maybe the repo man is looking for a way to collect his prize without going to look for the car. Maybe the owner thinks the repo man has his car, but he isn’t sure. Maybe a soon-to-be ex-spouse is trying to locate “their” car. It could be the driver was injured or a crime victim or became ill while they were out and the family can’t find their car. The police – or a stalker - are trying to locate someone.

Okay, all interesting and exciting theories. A good writer would have a field day with any of these ideas. But, personal experience still goes with a person of a certain age who just can’t remember where they parked that darn car!

Going back to the Courier News ad’s ”appropriate reward” – if it were my lost car, the reward would increase if the person who found the car didn’t laugh or ask too many questions.

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An additional parking lot hint: Parking next to an unusual vehicle so you can locate your own car later doesn’t work. Invariably they will leave while you are in the store.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Citizenship and Persistence

It’s always a surprise when, during a Township Committee meeting, the mayor asks, “Is there is any new business from the floor not on the agenda?” and a citizen (or, even better, a group of citizens) stands up.

Over a year ago – fall of 2005 - a group of homeowners stood up and addressed the Committee about a problem with a neighboring business. They probably had no idea that a year-and-a-half later they would still be working their way through the local government system, but these determined people have not wavered.

They have learned how to ask questions and comment, how to look up and understand ordinances and laws and who to ask for help. They have become polite but persistent regulars in every municipal office that could provide them with information. They know what to do when something needs to be numbered as an exhibit and how many copies they need. The three-ring binders and stacks of photographs they carry to every meeting have grown and they know the press and the board’s support staff by name. They attend meeting after meeting and follow every adjournment without complaint.

The professionals involved in these disputes often count on citizens losing interest as time passes or becoming confused or disgusted by the process, but these neighbors have learned how to play the game.

Whether they win or lose or, more likely, end up somewhere in between, you have to admire their persistence and belief in a system that starts with a citizen standing up and telling their elected officials they have a problem.

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Some of the more cynical may consider this group’s belief in the system na├»ve, but it’s still refreshing...and it does liven up the meetings. We can only hope that some of these people stay involved.

This particular problem is now working its way through the Board of Adjustment (unfortunately not televised).

Monday, April 2, 2007

Scherer's Retirement

There are time-honored retirement strategies for politicians.

You know the drill: John (or Jane) Doe is retiring/stepping down/not running again so that he (or she) can spend more time with their families/ businesses/personal interests. Whatever the exact reason, it involves getting back to their roots after years of selfless public service.

According to the front page of the Hillsborough Beacon of October 19, 2006, Somerset County Freeholder Ken Scherer invoked that tradition, announcing he would be “stepping down at the end of the year to focus on his new business venture.”

For those not from the area, Scherer, a Hillsborough resident, has two landscape-related family businesses and the new-but-related business Garden State Deer Proofing.

But… reading further into the article we find Scherer pointing out that in the future he would certainly consider higher office such as the NJ State Assembly – if the opportunity presented itself.

Well, lo-and-behold, buried inside the Beacon of January 25, 2007 – 12 weeks later - we find the announcement that Ken Scherer will seek the suddenly open 16th Legislative District Assembly seat.

There was no comment from any of the local press or even the trolls on the local forums. I missed any letters to the editor commenting on the brevity of Mr. Scherer’s retirement from politics.

Have the citizens become so jaded or just fed-up with politics that they are ignoring it all or do they just not care anymore?

Or, worst case for Mr. Scherer, didn’t anyone notice?

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A few local forum posters woke up. They pointed out that if “commuting” to the Freeholders’ meetings in Somerville was too time consuming to allow Mr. Scherer to run his business, how on earth would he handle the time involved in traveling to Assembly meetings in Trenton.

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Apparently the Somerset County Republican Convention did not want to be responsible for the future of the Scherer family business. This past Thursday Scherer’s opponent Freeholder Denise Coyle was voted in as the party’s official candidate for the District 16 Assembly seat by 182-74.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Independent = Unaffiliated? Not!

While talking to an acquaintance recently, I mentioned that no matter how suited I was for appointment to a local board it would never happen because I was registered as an Independent.

“Yeah, me, too,” he said. “I’m also unaffiliated.”

Huh? “Unaffiliated” as a synonym for Independent??

To me, being unaffiliated smacks of indecision. Wishy-washiness. Being an Independent by default. Not being able to choose either Republican or Democratic.

Well, guess what, I deliberately chose Independent and that’s how you can identify me.

Unaffiliated, my foot.

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How is political affiliation related to a blog about Hillsborough? Geez, you must be new around here!